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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Newton   27 October 1865

Magdalene College, Cambridge.

27 Oct. 1865—

My dear Sir,

I venture to hope you will kindly excuse my troubling you with a request—

There seems every probability of a Professorship of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy being established in this University—in which case I intend to offer myself as a Candidate for the post—1 But since I took my degree I have been so much away—having for nine years held the Travelling Fellowship of this College2—that I am known personally to but very few of the resident Masters of Arts & others who form the Elective body—3 Many of my friends therefore think that my chance of success will be materially strengthened by testimonials from a few of the most eminent naturalists— I therefore take the liberty of asking whether you will do me the great favour of giving me a recommendation—

You yourself can testify in the most remarkable degree to the enormous advantages which travelling in distant and varied foreign countries confers upon a student of Zoology—and nearly all my voyages and journeys have been made with special Zoological objects—4 You also have honoured with your notice some few of the various contributions I have been able to make to scientific journals—5

I consequently hope you may be able to speak favourably of my qualifications for the important office to which I aspire—

I sincerely trust that whether from health or any other reason this letter may cause you no inconvenience to answer—and I remain | With very deep respect | Yours truly | Alfred Newton

Charles Darwin Esqre. F.R.S. | &c. &c. &c.


Until 1866, comparative anatomy had been taught at the University of Cambridge by the professor of anatomy. The new professorship was founded in the spring of 1866 and two candidates, one of whom was Newton, competed for the post (see A. F. R. Wollaston 1921, p. 133).
Newton was elected in the spring of 1853 to the Drury Travelling Fellowship of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and held the post until March 1863 (A. F. R. Wollaston 1921, pp. 12, 75).
Professorships were decided by a vote in the Senate of the university. Candidates canvassed the membership for votes, and it was customary to seek testimonials from prestigious non-members (A. F. R. Wollaston 1921, p. 133).
Newton had made numerous ornithological expeditions to various locations including the West Indies, Lapland, Iceland, and Spitsbergen (A. F. R. Wollaston 1921).
CD had been particularly interested in Newton’s paper ‘On an illustration of the manner in which birds may occasionally aid in the dispersion of seeds’ (A. Newton 1863). Newton had sent CD the foot of a red-legged partridge (Caccabis rufa) with a ball of earth attached containing seeds (see Correspondence vol. 11, letters from Alfred Newton, 21 March 1863 and 31 October 1863). With his letter of 31 October 1863, Newton sent CD a copy of A. Newton 1863, part of which is in DAR 205.9: 366 and is annotated in CD’s hand. CD planted the seeds and was able to grow eighty-two plants; he included the information in Origin 4th ed., p. 432 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Alfred Newton, 29 March [1864] and nn. 3 and 4). CD later referred to a paper of Newton’s on hybrid ducks (A. Newton 1860) in Variation 2: 157.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Newton, Alfred. 1860. On some hybrid ducks. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 28: 336–9.

Newton, Alfred. 1863. On an illustration of the manner in which birds may occasionally aid in the dispersion of seeds. [Read 21 April 1863.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1863): 127–9.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Wollaston, Alexander Frederick Richmond. 1921. Life of Alfred Newton, professor of comparative anatomy, Cambridge University, 1866–1907. With a preface by Sir Archibald Geikie. London: John Murray.


Asks CD to support his candidacy for Professorship of Zoology at Cambridge. Since he has spent many years travelling, he is not well enough known at the University.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Newton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 172: 43
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4925,” accessed on 10 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13